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Certified sommelier Dan Colgan on the poetry of wine, plus his favorite picks for drinking and toasting the holidays
Wine glasses clink, bottles pop and the sweet sounds of classical piano play in the background as certified sommelier Dan Colgan of longtime favorite Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster recalls how he got hooked on wine. It was the early 80s, and he was a freshman in college. While all his friends at the keg parties were drinking their body weights in Lone Star and Schlitz, he was starting a love affair with Robert Mondavi pinot noir, discovering a passion not only for the taste, but for the sophistication and romance that comes with the enjoyment of wine whether sipped over dinner or served at a holiday soiree.
Over the next three decades, Colgan spent his career in hospitality, starting in Houston at Tony’s — The French Laundry of its day. When Colgan, a born partyer, learned that he could make a living by imparting wine knowledge, he knew he’d found his path, remembering the words of his dad to “do what you’re good at.”
Dressed to the nines in a blue-satin vest and with a wit dryer than his favorite French brut, Colgan — who has worked at Christner’s for 20 years — explains that “before learning how to taste wine, you have to start tasting water.” He started drinking water with his mentor, learning how to articulate the differences in minerality and mouth feel. “Being able to discern subtle shifts in water fine-tunes your palate and prepares you for the complexity and nuance of wine.”
Colgan manages Christner’s massive wine inventory (the largest cellar contains 1,500 bottles), and they’re all stored properly at a perfect 55 degrees. After Colgan rewrote the wine list, sales skyrocketed from 10 to 25 percent and are holding strong. He savors getting to know the guests, their tastes and sense of adventure when choosing wine, and their dining experience is always better because of it.
Colgan’s Picks for the Season
As you start planning holiday dinners and parties, Colgan emphasizes the importance of the marriage between food and wine. For Turkey Day, he recommends a dry gewürztraminer or a medium-dry riesling.
When it comes to a Christmas ham, he likes a pink pinot grigio or Southern Rhone grenache as long as it’s not too weighty or fruity. “Pork can be tricky,” he notes, “because it depends on the cut.” If you are serving a crown roast of pork, a bright, crisp sauvignon blanc with apple notes is an excellent pick as well as the Spanish white Verdeo. “Avoid the New Zealand sauv blancs because they’re too grapefruit-y,” he points out.
With prime rib, a favorite during the holidays, Colgan suggests a Burgundy or pinot noir to complement the food, not overpower it. The sommelier is quick to advise cab lovers: “Big, heavy cabernets are palate-dominating. They’re delicious but contrary to popular belief, they don’t pair well with red meat. The goal should be a union of the flavors.”
A self-professed bubbles snob, Colgan might be the only guy around who drinks champagne while watching football, so naturally he has much to say on the topic of the go-to New Year’s libation. He recommends small-batch producers like Jeeper from France and prefers brut and extra brut to extra dry or demi-sec, which have too much sweetness for him. “Best bang for your buck is Deutz,” he says. Colgan also mentions that there are incredible values in prosecco like Silk Bar or Creador cava from Spain, both retailing for less than $20 a bottle.
Perhaps what Colgan loves more than anything about wine is that it’s always evolving. Studying wine is a lifelong process, and lucky for Colgan, drinking it is the only way to learn.